Treasure Island III

Chapter Three: Chop Chop

Chinese Treasure Stolen
Gavin Phipps
Friday November 7, 2002

A thief, or thieves, snatched precious Chinese artifacts from a cabinet at the Irish National Museum last night and coolly walked past the security guards posted at the entrance to the Hall of Chinese Antiquities.

The robber smashed the cabinet that displayed the artifacts and took a number of jewelry items including a hair-pin, ear rings, fingernail guards, and Chinese seals. A spokeswoman for the museum said, “We don’t put financial values on our pieces, but these are obviously items of historical value.”

The origin of the Chinese chops is a compelling mystery. The chops, dating back to the 16th century, were found all over Ireland. The first seal was discovered in 1780 in a moor in Mountrath buried in peat, the second in a cave in Cork in 1805, and the third unearthed in an orchard later in the 19th century in county Down. Such discoveries continued until by 1868 more than 60 such seals had been discovered. Why and how the seals came to Ireland and were distributed in such an unusual manner has been the source of much speculation, from a magician’s failed prank to some kind of signal.

Detectives believe the items were likely stolen to order by a group of professional thieves.

“Though we don’t like to speculate, this crime comes on the back of similar robberies at the British, Victoria and Albert museums. We suspect this spate of robberies is linked to a professional gang working to order for buyers in the Far East,” said Detective Tom Hill, assigned to investigate this robbery.

The market for Chinese antiquities is booming with sales in the Far East attracting strong interest; particularly from Chinese keen to buy back some of their history…

“Fabulous!” Lord Lucan bellowed slapping a folded edition of the Taipei Times on his desk. “That’ll put a rocket up the price’s arse. Nothing adds more value to worthless junk in these parts than having it pilfered. I’ll have those chops under spots on display behind a wall of glass in some Shanghai skyscraper with the inscription: ‘…formerly of the National Irish Museum’ by the weekend.”

Almost everything Lord Lucan said made you laugh. He was an audacious and bombastic prick to many, but those that really got him delighted in him. Perhaps because besides his many foibles he was a great listener and whilst he lacked a moral compass of his own, his ability to navigate the words of others to find a path to the antipodes of their minds and reveal to them their needs and hidden desires made him the Long John Silver of the mental sea; and like Silver a terrific salesman and careful compromiser who was endlessly ruthless, yet a man of his word.

“So you were a mate of Corey’s,” Lord Lucan continued.

It was more a statement than a question as if ‘mate of Corey’s’ were a reading on a barometer that only he could interpret.

“No one mentions the poor bastard any more. There was a time when you heard nothing else. You get your head chopped off in LiuChungli and people are gonna talk, especially the foreigners. Memories fade though, which, I imagine, is why you suddenly found the courage to pop up on the scene and start digging around.”

How do you respond to stuff like that? If you answer, “Yes,” then you’re a man without courage; if you answer, “No,” you’re a lying prick. So you laugh it off and say, “Not exactly,” and that’s how it goes and almost without noticing it you’re laughing along to Lucan’s banter as he pokes and prods every aspect of your manhood leaving you giggling at your own idiosyncrasies, and rolling in laughter at his.

“You had me rob a museum,” I narked.

“Oh, well. Behind every great fortune, there’s a crime. You know that much, don’t you? And besides, most men’ll brag a bit if they find their grandfather was a pirate.”

“That’s your answer.”

“What do you want me to say? I don’t trust you. So where’s the booty? Let’s have it,” said Lucan, a grin cracking his monstrous rock like lips.

“Why did Corey come to see you after the Korean Airline’s crash?”

“It’s gonna be you show me yours, I’ll show you mine, is it? Well, get your sword out.” He went for his fly; the crazy bastard.

“What else did you expect?” I said.

“Hadn’t thought it that far through really. Corey and I were mates. We shared information; him for his country me for my business. The mixing of espionage and trade has a long history in these parts and the world over for that matter.”

“What I don’t understand is why Corey would come to you when he was at his most vulnerable?”

“Ah! Well! Now that’s what’s going to cost you. The price has been set. So let’s see what you’ve got for me. You can keep the hair-pins and fingernail guards unless you’d like me to trade them for you; for a commission of course.”

I opened the satchel I was carrying and revealed the tiny seals to Lucan. He picked them up one by one with a gentleness that belied the stubbiness of his fingers and held them under the light on his desk.

“Not much to look at, are they? Some interesting detail in the motifs. They say they date back to 1200AD about the time of Sin Bad and the early Ming Dynasty. There isn’t much value in their artistic merit, but plenty in their history. Time is such a torrid and merciless bitch to the living, yet she lovingly caresses all manner of inanimate junk we leave behind. The question now is should I sell them as a collection or as individual pieces?”

“You’d consider breaking up the collection?” I asked.

“For a price, we’re all Visigoths. So that’s your part of the deal completed, now I guess you’d like to hear from the oracle.”

“The problem is I’m not exactly sure of the questions. Like I said, I’ve essentially got all of Corey’s old files and his personal journals; but, it’s like handing Captain Cook’s charts to an Outback Aborigine. He was brave that night. He really sucked it up. The only thing I’ve been able to figure out is that when he was most under the hammer, he came to you.”


“And that’s it.”

“Impossible!” he scoffed. “You rob a museum, travel half way around the world, turn up back here in Taiwan after fleeing a scene where your mate had his head chopped off by a bunch of Jap Yakuza to ask, ‘Why’ questions. I might be a Visigoth, but I’m not a moron. You’re onto something.”

Just like that Lucan cut to the heart of the matter.

Treasure Island III


Taipei, Taiwan

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